By Don Wanlass
The Dodgers front office showed their fans last week that they are seriously in pursuit of a sixth straight National League West title when they traded four prospects and Breyvic Valera, a utility infielder who had played in 20 games this year, for Baltimore Orioles all-star shortstop Manny Machado.
Machado will play third base and shortstop at a near-all-star level and make the Dodgers lineup that much deeper.
Only one of the four prospects, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, was highly rated. Diaz, playing at Double-A Tulsa, hit two home runs in the Futures Game during all-star week earlier this month, but he is an outfielder and the Dodgers already have a logjam in the outfield. He was expendable and the Dodgers were wise to give him up, even if Machado is a two-and-a-half-month rental.
The Dodgers still have five days before the July 31 trading deadline to bolster their bullpen, the only obvious need the team has.
The starting rotation currently has six pitchers and Hyun-Jin Ryu is about ready for a minor league rehab assignment, making it seven available starters. The Dodgers could bolster the bullpen by moving Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling or Walter Buehler to the bullpen, but after Clayton Kershaw those have been their three best starting pitchers in the last two months.
There are plenty of bullpen arms available for the Dodgers to go after and I could envision a trade for a reliever that included one or two of the Dodgers relievers, an extra outfielder (Yasiel Puig) and maybe even a starting pitcher (Ryu).
Of course, the Dodgers can win their share of games just by outhitting their opponents. They have five players with 15 or more home runs and eight with more than 10. They have five players with more than 45 runs batted in, so scoring most nights isn’t the problem.
But the bullpen is up and down. When it’s down, you can generally attribute in to overwork. Manager Dave Roberts rides his bullpen hard, pulling most starters at the first sign of trouble once they get through the batting order twice.
The Dodgers have already used 28 pitchers this year, counting utility player Kike Hernandez, who pitched the 16th inning July 24 after Roberts ran out of pitchers. Hernandez wasn’t pretty. He got one batter, walked the next two and then yielded a walk-off three-run homer to Trevor Plouffe in a 7-4 loss.
When looking at statistics, no pitcher on the staff has been overworked.
Alex Wood leads the pitching staff in innings pitched with 111. Stripling is the only other pitcher over 100 innings.
In the bullpen, closer Kenley Jansen is the only reliever with more than 50 innings pitched and he is right at that number in 47 appearances.
However, the Dodgers don’t have anyone who can consistently get through the seventh or eighth inning in a close game, making most of Jansen’s ninth inning assignments cliff hangers.
Scott Alexander has been the Dodgers most consistent reliever this year. Daniel Hudson was an effective set-up man for Arizona in the past. It’s possible they could fill that role again, but it would be better if they shared the seventh inning and the Dodgers got a current closer to pitch the eighth and take over for Jansen when he needs a night off.
If you pay attention to social media, you might get the idea that the Dodgers were struggling around at the .500 mark rather than leading the National League West.
This week, I have seen suggestions that Cody Bellinger get sent down to Single A Rancho Cucamonga, the Dodgers acquire Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees (that would only happen if the Dodgers gave the Yankees Jansen) and that they should fire Roberts at the end of the season.
Relax, fans. It’s not even August. There’s still two months of the season to play.
The Dodgers most likely will still be playing in October. And if they aren’t, it doesn’t mean the world has come to an end. It’s only baseball.
HOLD THAT TIGER: I was out of state over the weekend so I didn’t get to see as much of the British Open as I would have liked. What I did see, I liked, especially the performance of Tiger Wood.
Yes, that was the old Tiger on Sunday, making a charge at the oldest golf tournament known to man. He actually took the lead for half a minute, before giving three shots back to par in the next two holes and losing to eventual winner Francesco Molinari.
Woods ended up tied for sixth, three shots back, in his best showing at a major tournament in years. He knew he needed to hit fairways to be in contention at Carnoustie so he used irons off the tee more often than normal and played at even par for three of the four days
There are many young golfers who have emerged on the scene since Woods last won a major. Tiger played better than most of them at the British Open. Jordan Spieth, maybe the best player on the tour these days, went into Sunday tied for the lead, but couldn’t hold it and shot a 76 to finish tied for ninth, one shot back of Woods.
Rory McElroy shot better than Tiger, finishing one shot ahead of him, but some of the other young stars, including Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson didn’t even make the cut.
The PGA Championship is the last major of the 2018 season, coming up Aug. 9-12 at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis.
Let’s hope Tiger plays well that weekend because Tiger is good for golf.
SPARKS NEED SPARK: With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Los Angeles Sparks are on cruise control.
They lost their fifth straight game at home July 24, falling to the Atlanta Dream, 81-71. The Dream lead the WNBA Eastern Conference and have won eight games in a row.
The Sparks played without Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard. Ogwumike missed her third straight game due to an illness. Beard has a groin injury.
The Sparks currently have the fifth best record in the league (the top eight make the playoffs), but are only a game and half out of the second seed. If the Sparks finish with the second-best record in the league, they wouldn’t have to play until the semifinals. If they finish third or fourth, they would get a first round bye in the playoffs, which start Aug. 21.
Candace Parker continues to lead the Sparks. The two-time WNBA most valuable player leads the team in scoring and rebounding and is second in assists, averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
The Sparks have only eight regular season games remaining on the schedule, three at home.
They don’t play again until Aug. 2, when they host the Minnesota Lynx at Staples Center at 7 p.m.
That should give Ogwumike and Beard a chance to get healthy and spur the Sparks on to the playoffs, where they have the chance to win their fourth WNBA championship.